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12.29.2010

Fallout: New Vegas– Why has the Caesar marked me for Death?

I’m about few hours into New Vegas and I found myself in the middle of a scripted event where I was attached by a pair of Caesar’s Legion assassins.  They deliver a little speech about how the Caesar has marked me for death, blah blah blah.  It seemed a little early in the game to have two higher level assassins jump me, &I wondered why my reputation had suddenly jumped from 0 to Vilified status with the Legion.  I had only killed 3 or 4 Legion goons on my trip to Novac.  So while setting up my hotel room in Novac, I realized what must have happened.  When I was coming up the road past the Wolfhorn Ranch at the top of the hill, I met a trader caravan and we were attacked by Legionaries.  I killed them and looted the bodies…using the “Take all” command.  It turns out that when I was stashing loot in the hotel in Novac, I saw I had been carrying a Legion Ear in my inventory.  One spawned on one of the fallen Legion soldiers and I picked it up by accident.  Taking grisly trophies must have earned me vilified status instantly.  I reloaded an earlier save, killed way more same CL goons, never saw another ear, I only took their weapons and food, none of their armor…and I still have 0 status with them according to my PIP-Boy.

12.21.2010

Peparing for PAX East

The Penny Arcade Expo East is only 2.5 months away right now. I have my tickets and hotel room booked, but am still sorting out travel arrangements.

The first time you travel there, the cost and complexity of booking travel can be intimidating. Here are a couple of suggestions.

Create an account with Kayak or Bing and track air fare deals there. My favorite comparison engine is ITA Matrix. They are the software folks who power most of the big travel shopping sites, but the Matrix on their site is able to do very flexible searches.

Get on the Penny Arcade forums and read the PAX section. There are a lot of great people there and they're providing a lot of good travel tips and will point out good deals when they see them.

Consider taking the train. Moe Fwacky on the forums has organized a great thread that helps to get you on the right train with other PAX folks. Book a ticket, meet some people, and get an extra day of gaming in on the Eastern Train Alliance.

7.02.2010

Testing Pogo Sketch stylus with iPad

A quick comparison using my shoddy penmanship, a Pogo Sketch stylus, and Penultimate on my iPad.

5.29.2010

I adopted a Street Fighter today.


I found this poor guy on Craig's List and gave him a home. My wife was kind enough to let me keep it in the house instead of the garage. Looks like there are some scuff and dings to work out, but it plays great.

5.26.2010

$7.50 DIY Ring Flash

 

I built a basic ring flash modifier this week for $7.50.  It took about an hour.  I’m pretty happy with the results especially when compared to the cost of the materials.  I don’t think it’s any substitute for a real studio ring flash or for a Orbis or Ray Flash style modifier.  I think maybe it’s worth your time to build one some weekend and play with the ring flash lighting.  I figure toying with this will help me decide if this style of photography is something I enjoy enough to drop the cash for the Orbis or Ray Flash adapters.

I started with a white Sterilite plastic bowl set.  $4 at Dollar General store.

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I traced a circle slightly larger than my lens.

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I used a utility knife to carefully trim around the circle. 

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After cutting the circle out of the smaller bowl, I used it to make a template on the larger one.

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I traced the front of my speed light onto the side of the larger bowl and cut an opening for it.
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First test with/ Canon 420EX, and no reflective material on either dish. 
I used ugly duct tape to temporarily attach the bowls during testing.

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So it looks like we’re going to need some reflective backing material to kick the light around the center dish.

Target has just the thing.  Chrome Duck-brand duct tape.  Not the normal grey stuff, this is actually reflective.  Cost, $3.50 a roll.

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I applied the tape in big straight strips, and then went back and covered any exposed white spots to stop light from bleeding through the center element.

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I took this test shot with the Canon 420EX speed light on an E-TTL sync cable using the silvered reflector. Not nearly enough power.  The top of the ring doesn’t get bright enough.

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So I cut the opening for the flash a little bigger and swapped in my Vivitar 285HV set up on Manual mode.  I triggered it using some cheap eBay radio triggers that I had.

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Success.  Now to take a test shot.

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No retouching on the above image.  I just opened file in Lightroom and set the color profile to “flash” and then exported it.

The great part is that once you’re finished building this, you can celebrate by eating a whole box of cereal out of the leftover mixing bowls.

4.30.2010

PAX Survival Handbook – Food

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert about conventions or PAX, but just thought I’d share my observations from my first PAX.  Maybe it helps you, maybe not…

  • Fast food during PAX won’t be fast.  Most fast food chains within walking distance of the convention center are going to be very busy during peak hours.  You might wait in line for over a half hour at a food court.
  • Nicer restaurants and restaurants farther from the convention center will be less busy, but will cost you more in both cash & time.
  • Remember that you’re budgeting not only your money, but also your time.  Waiting in line at a food court or fancy restaurant means you can’t be at the convention center waiting in line for panels or playing games.
  • If you stay until the convention center closes (after concerts), most places to eat will be closed when you leave.
  • The convention center doesn’t open until usually around 10AM. You’ll have plenty of time for breakfast, unless you want to wait in early lines for concert wrist bands.
  • You may just be having such a good time that you lose track of time and miss a meal.
  • Both PAX Prime and PAX East are in towns where you can get great specialty foods, and good seafood.
  • Sunday the expo closes earlier.  That’s a good night to get together with your travel companions or new friends and go out to a fancy dinner.
  • You’re going to be on the run, don’t forget to drink water.  You don’t want to get sick from being dehydrated.  I made it a habit to drink a glass of water every time I was in the hotel room.

During my first PAX, I happened to bring some packaged food in my suitcase, just in case I got stuck at the airport, arrived late, missed a flight, needed a snack, or something along those lines.  It worked out well for me.  Several times I got back to the room at 2am and was hungry, or just needed a snack before running back to the convention center.

PAX Rations

I’d suggest you should bring whatever packaged food you can in your suitcase or car (if driving).  Think granola/breakfast/energy bars, trail mix or dried fruit, pop tarts, that sort of thing.  If you’re going to arrive to PAX early, you may want to consider a quick run to a convenience store or grocery to grab some lunchmeat or peanut butter & jelly or whatever you’ll have the ability to prepare and store in your hotel room.  If you figure most fast food meals would run say $5-7 and 30-60 minutes of your time.  It may be worth it to you to just run up to your room for 15 minutes and grab a bite to eat.  I ate one or two meals a day in my hotel room, as I felt like it, and was able to get a little more time in the convention center, and play in a tournament some of my friends missed.

Breakfast at the Lenox Hotel

I rationalized it this way, I figured I was saving money each time I ate in the hotel room.  I adjusted my budget for one really nice meal out each day.  I ended up really enjoying going with friends to a nice lunch at a local pub, or heading out for a steak & seafood dinner after a long day at the convention.  Grabbing a really good sit-down breakfast at the hotel restaurant before heading over to the convention center was great.

4.10.2010

PAX East 2010 Swag

I finally sorted through all my PAX East Swag today.  Here is the list of the crap I accumulated at the expo:

BYOC – The Nvidia/Intel LAN gave Bring Your Own Computer registrants a special swag bag including:

Nvidia logo Swiss-Army Laptop Backpack
Nvidia custom black Snuggie
Nvidia GPU chip in a keychain
Download card for Battlefield 2: Bad Company 2
Dust-Off LCD Screen care kit.  (microfiber LCD & phone wipes)
$10 Starbucks gift card

Generic Swag from the registration line or vendor booths:

Event Program w/ new Lookouts art on the cover.
Intel Game-On Beanie – won from Intel prize patrol ticket
Magic The Gathering green starter deck.
Choiix adhesive mouse pad – won from a survey at Coolermaster
Company of Heroes Gold Edition – won from Dust-Off survey.
The Behemoth Lanyard
Magic The Gathering drawstring bag
Magic The Gathering 256MB USB Bracelet
various stickers and buttons

3.27.2010

PAX East 2010, Day 1

Today is the start of Day 2 of PAX East.  I’m sitting in my hotel room, planning breakfast, and waiting until closer to 10am when the doors to the expo center will open. 

Yesterday was a big day.
Woke up at 5:30AM. 
Dropped kids at daycare.
Drove 2 hrs to Indianapolis Airport. (cheaper tickets there)
Flew 2 hrs to Boston.
Took hotel shuttle to the Lenox.
Checked in, dropped off bags, ate granola bars.
Walked 2 blocks and got into the PAX East entrance line.
I was in the door at the convention by 2:45.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make the cutoff for the Wil Wheaton keynote.  So I just headed up to the Bring Your Own Computer LAN and set up my rig.  (Some friends drove to the expo and brought it with them)  I walked around the expo, and checked out the vendor expo hall.  Nothing spectacular there, but I’m pretty jaded because I already work with a bunch of tech vendors.  If someone had never been to a trade show, they may have been pretty impressed.

Our group attended the Nvidia launch event for their new graphics processor.  They did a pretty cool 3d demo across 3 monitors, but the dialogue was a bit rough.  It came off as unrehearsed and felt like they were trying to dumb stuff to appeal to kids who want to blow crap up.  (The slogan of the event “Crank that S#!t Up”)

I got to meet MC Frontalot and bought a CD and poster and got them signed.

I spent a couple of hours in the BYOC LAN playing games.

I visited Foam Brain games and bought a copy of “We Didn’t Playtest This at All” the card game after playing a brief demo.

I tried to hang on until 1:00AM for the MC Frontalot show, (concerts were running over on time) but I was just too tired.  I hung out and heard a little of Metroid Metal, and then headed back to the hotel and crashed.

So far I’m only hearing two real complaints about the show so far. 
1. The queue line for events in the main theatre is very long, because the theatre at this venue only holds 4,000.  Rumor has it that next year’s event will be at a bigger venue that has a larger main stage area.
2.  The BYOC LAN is having problems with their connection to the internet.  Games w/o LAN hosting modes are not running well.  Modern Warfare 2 is the big example.  I’ve been playing L4D2 with no problems. 

3.26.2010

PAX East 2010 entry 1

I’m sitting here waiting on my clock to say it’s time to go.  In about 25 minutes, I’ll be able to leave the house, drop my daughter at day-care and begin the 2.5hr drive to Indianapolis to board my flight to Boston for the Penny Arcade Expo.  My comrades from work already began their drive to PAX East last night after work.  Right now they’re driving icy roads on I-84 in New York, heading to the Connecticut line.

I sent my LAN party computer ahead in the back of their SUV.

I’m pretty nervous and excited right now. 
This is the first time in my adult life I’ve taken a vacation on my own.  I’ve always either been with my parents, or with my wife and family.  I’ve never flown alone before.  I’m not nervous about the flying part, that’s a breeze, it’s the whole planning thing.  I get uptight about delayed flights, connections, taxis, detours, flat tires…that sort of thing.  Mainly I’m just super-excited to go to PAX.  I’ve always wanted to go to PAX Prime on the West coast, and I’m so glad that I’m attending the first PAX East.

So…here I sit.  Bags packed, car ready.  Kids snoozing for 5 more minutes.

2.25.2010

Kukuburi on your Kindle/nook/Sony Reader

I got a Sony Reader Pocket Edition (PRS-300) yesterday.  I was playing with importing RSS feeds using Calibre today and managed to whip up a quick and dirty Calibre recipe to convert one of my favorite webcomics into an ePub book.

Load up Calibre, and use the Fetch News menu. Create a new News Source from the dropdown menu.  Go into advanced mode and paste this code into your new Recipe: greenshot_2010-02-25_18-47-59greenshot_2010-02-25_18-48-19

class AdvancedUserRecipe1267141443(BasicNewsRecipe):

title = u'Kukuburi'

oldest_article = 30

max_articles_per_feed = 100

feeds = [(u'http://feeds.feedburner.com/kukuburi?format=xml', u'http://feeds.feedburner.com/kukuburi?format=xml')]

I have this set up to only hold the last 30 days, but you can edit it to your liking.  Save this recipe.  Now it’ll show up under “Custom” in your News Sources list.  You can schedule it like other RSS feeds.greenshot_2010-02-25_18-48-50   greenshot_2010-02-25_18-49-25

The end result looks pretty good on my little Sony Reader: IMG_2624

1.24.2010

How to Find the Last 3 Joker Teeth in Arkham Mansion.

The last three Joker teeth in the Arkham Mansion section of Batman: Arkham Asylum can be tough to find.  They’re a little off the beaten path, so you may not run across them normally.  Here’s how to find them and wrap up this Riddler Challenge.
Head to Arkham Mansion.
map1
Turn left at the broken bell and head towards the Warden’s Office.
Stop in the entrance to the room.  This is the same room where you had to use the Corner Cover move to take out Zsasz.
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Stop at the entrance of the room here.
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Then look up.
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Grapple up to the upper level into this room.
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The joker teeth are at the back of the room.  There are two at the end of the room, and one in between some of the filing cabinets.
batman_office_jokerteeth





1.22.2010

Top Game Picks for Laptops with !*%@ Intel Integrated Graphics

You may have noticed a trend in my recent posts. I’ve been benchmarking a lot of games using the built-in Intel graphics on my Toshiba laptop. PAX East is coming up in about 60 days, and I’m trying to find a good selection of games that I can actually play on the limited graphics of the “average” laptop. I plan to use this post to keep a running list of some of my favorite games that will run on integrated graphics chipsets.

My test system:
Toshiba Satellite L505. Core 2 Duo CPU, 3GB RAM, Win 7 32-bit. Intel Media Graphics Accelerator 4500MHD.

The List thus far: (check back as I’ll be updating this post)

Torchlight – This game is what would happen if Diablo and World of Warcraft had a single player baby. Runs great and looks great on anemic graphics hardware. Cheap at only $20. Can play from the hard drive w/o the need for disc checks.

Sid Meier’s Pirates – Simple but fun game, very open ended. You can play for a few minutes or hours at a time.

Half-Life 2 - Works great with most settings on high. HL2 Lost Cost, Ep. 1 & 2 have some changes to the graphics engine and may not play as well. But HL2 and HL2 Multiplayer seem to work fine.

Geometry Wars - Works fine, joypad or external mouse recommended. You may need to fiddle with the resolution a bit to get this to be smooth.

World of Goo - A great little puzzle game for the price. Will run on almost any graphics hardware.

Sid Meier’s Pirates – A Laptop Gaming Classic

I dusted off my copy of Sid Meier’s Pirates today to test with the new laptop.  It takes a couple of tweaks to get it up and running, but it does run.  Unfortunately, I have no screenshots for you, because it’s evaded capture by any of the programs I normally use. 

This is one of my perennial favorite games.  When I’m bored of the latest and greatest, I sometimes pull this one out to play for a few minutes.  It’s a sandbox style game, so it’s easy to pick it up for 5-min, plunder a couple of ships and then put it down again.  It’s also easy to get lost in it for 45 minutes trying to track down a rival pirate or locate a buried treasure.  It’s not very taxing graphically, so it makes a good title for playing on a low-end laptop.
To get it running under Win7, you need to install the game, then run the 1.02 patch.  Right click on the shortcut, select Properties, then the Compatibility tab.  I got it working under “Compatibility Mode for Windows XP SP3”.  
Using the integrated graphics on my laptop (Intel 4500MHD), I was able to get smooth gameplay with the following settings: 
Resolution: 1024x768 (no widescreen options available)
Water Detail – Low
Object Detail – High
World Detail – High
Shadows – On
Advanced Lighting – Off
Trilinear Filtering – Off
Disable Shaders – Off
You can probably turn Adv. Lighting and Tri. Filtering on for some graphics chipsets, but I found it made the sword fight sequences just a slight bit choppy for my taste.

Notes:
This game does require the CD to be in the drive. (sorry netbook people)
This game is easier to play with a dedicated number pad.  There are onscreen buttons available for playing with a mouse, but the experience is better if your keyboard has a 10-key.

1.21.2010

Warcraft III – Laptop Gaming

I’m still testing old games with the integrated graphics on my laptop.
I’m happy to report that Warcraft III and the Frozen Throne expansion still work like a champ, even under Windows 7.  No compatibility tweaks needed. 

I was able to crank all the display settings up and play with no issues.
The only downside I can find is that you still need to have the disc inserted in the drive, and the game doesn’t support widescreen monitors resolutions.  Other than that, no issues.  This is one you should definitely have in your laptop bag.

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Test system: Toshiba L505, C2Duo, 3GB RAM, Win7 Home Premium 32-bit. 4500MHD graphics.

1.19.2010

Adapting a x16 lane PCIE video card into a x1 lane PhysX card.

I’ve played a few games (Mirror’s Edge, Batman: AA) this year that took advantage of Nvidia’s hardware PhysX processing in the video card via CUDA.  I started considering ways to recycle my old video card to utilize it as a PhysX processor.  My Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3L doesn’t support SLI and only has x1 lane PCIE slots open so I didn’t have anywhere to put my older video card.  I found various hacks and mods online where people had adapted x16 cards into x1 for video output.  But these mods either physically modify the slot on the motherboard, the connector tab on the video card.  I found the Startech PEX1TO16 lane adapter, but almost no reviews for it.  I decided it was worth a shot, and less likely to damage my motherboard so I started another of my experiments.  Would the adapter work?  If it works, can you get decent PhysX performance out of the reduced bandwidth x1 lane connection?
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First, a word of warning.  This adapter will raise the height of your video card, so it won’t fit normally and screw into the backplane of the computer.  My XFX 8600GTS has empty space at the top of the card for the S-Video output, so it still fits on my system. I just had to find a way to anchor the card.  I accomplished this using zip ties.  I’m looking for a properly threaded screw to make this more permanent. 
You’re also going to need a lot of cooling for two video cards, especially if they are close together. My system has a lot of ventilation, so I’m ok in this area.  I also have enough power supply for both cards.
Here is the adapter:
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My system before and after install:IMG_2462


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It took some experimenting to figure out which port was the primary display after adding in the new card.  Once I had the DVI cable on the right output, I just had to update my Nvidia drivers to get both cards to show up. 
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You can choose which card to be the PhysX Processor in the Nvidia control panel.

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Benchmarks:
I ran these tests using a Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz CPU, 2GB of DDR2/667 RAM, and Vista Home Premium 32-bit.  The primary graphics card is a 512MB 9800GTX+ (same core as a GT250, but less RAM), and the PhysX processor is a 8600GTS.  I rendered all the graphics on the 9800 GTX+, and switched PhysX duties between it and the 8600 for testing.  I did a lot of the testing using Batman: Arkham Asylum’s built-in test. 
Picture 2
The results are a bit confusing.  Using the add on card, seems to raise your maximum frames per second,  but can cause a slight dip in your average FPS.  I’m not sure if this is an issue with a bottleneck in my PCIE 1.0 graphics system, or a function of these applications implementation of PhysX.  In general the average frame rate stayed close to the baseline score.  My personal impression from playing Batman: AA was that the game ran smoother in PhysX heavy areas when I used the secondary card.  The graphics looked about the same, but gameplay felt more fluid in foggy or physics-object heavy areas.  I think the lower frame rate may be due to some bugs in the benchmark.  I noticed that when levels start to render, the frame rate seems to drop for 1-2 seconds as the physics objects draw in.  Once the level finishes “set up” things seem to run fast again. 
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I will note that this combination of cards could not run the Scarecrow hallucination levels under High PhysX settings.  Those levels would slow to a crawl when they started up.  Everything works fine on Normal.  I think the High settings may require a true SLI setup.

1.12.2010

Game Storage – an alternative to DiscSox

A few months back Tim from CAD Comic posted a nice review of some DVD storage sleeves called DiscSox from MM Design.  I really liked the idea.  I thought the DiscSox look great, but they seemed a bit pricey, and are only available via their website.  They also didn’t seem to be a standard form factor, so I was concerned that they might not fit in storage boxes that weren’t from MM Design.  I wanted a cheaper more generic solution. 
Last week while I was in Target I found these sleeves in the CD Storage area. 

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They’re made by Atlantic, and are about $12 for 20pcs.  A little cheaper than the MM Design product.  I’m sure if you searched online, you might be able to find them even cheaper somewhere else. Unfortunately, Target only has them in colored multipacks.  I would have preferred them to all be clear.

I gave them a shot and have started putting my PC games in them instead of keeping the DVD cases around.  So far they’re working pretty well and I like how much I’ve been able to reduce the shelf space taken up by the games.

While the MM Design sleeves seem to be a one piece design, these are two pieces, an outer sleeve and a disc insert. 

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IMG_2409 

I’m not ready to move all our DVD’s to them.  But I think I’m going to keep these around for my PC stuff.  I like that I can store manuals and license cards in the sleeve, that was one drawback to the paper CD sleeves I’ve been using for older discs.

1.11.2010

Torchlight performance on Intel Laptop integrated graphics

Torchlight 2010-01-11 13-01-26-34
I picked up a retail box copy of Torchlight yesterday.  I was excited to hear it supported low end graphics and system requirements as it might be a nice game to waste a lunch hour on my laptop.  I was disappointed with how choppy NWN2 was on my laptop. 
Well, I wasn’t disappointed.  Torchlight seems like a really fun game for the $20 price point.  I had a few hiccups installing it, because I thought the installer had hung on my desktop machine.  It turns out that you just need to let the installer churn away for 2-3 minutes and everything installs correctly.  I’m guessing the delay is some kind of DRM disc validation.  I don’t really mind since once it installed, you don’t have to have the CD in the drive anymore. 
I was concerned that I’d have to dial the graphics back for Torchlight to be playable on my Satellite, but it turns out it works just fine.  I did not have to use the “netbook” mode that adjusts the draw distances and camera for small screens and poor graphics chipsets. 
I was able to run Torchlight at my native resolution with most of the eye-candy enabled and still get a pretty steady 30FPS out of it using these settings:
 Torchlight 2010-01-11 12-38-24-13
Note that I turned VSync on.  I had some jagged screen / tearing problems until I turned it on.  It didn’t seem to cause any performance penalty.
I benchmarked using FRAPS in the first floor dungeon with several enemies on screen. FRAPS reported my minimum framerate was 32, maximum was 38.

Here are a couple of screenshots.  The yellow number in the corner is the FRAPS framerate.
Torchlight 2010-01-11 13-02-35-19 Torchlight 2010-01-11 13-02-12-44


1.06.2010

Batman Arkham Asylum on Intel Integrated Graphics

I recently saw a forum thread where someone was claiming to have run Batman: Arkham Asylum on an Intel 4500HD integrated graphics chipset with no problems.  Based on my past experience, I didn’t quite buy that.  I got a copy of Batman:AA for Christmas so I decided to give it a shot on my Toshiba Laptop w/ Intel 4500MHD graphics.

I tested using Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit on a Toshiba Satellite L505 w/ 3GB of RAM and 2GHz Core 2 Duo.  I ran Batman on the 1.1 update and used the included Benchmark for testing.

Using the default settings:

greenshot_2010-01-06_10-14-29 
FPS:
Max – 168
Min – 2
Avg – 8
Result: Unplayable

I tested on many in between settings, but ended up putting everything down to the minimum setting in an attempt to get somewhere near a smooth 30FPS. 

At minimum settings:
greenshot_2010-01-06_13-13-17
FPS: 
Max – 117
Min – 3
Avg – 20 
Result: Playable (barely)

I have to call BS on the forum posters who think this game runs great on notebooks. It’s not completely unplayable, but it’s not smooth at all. I was able to get through to the hospital levels on these settings.  Things seem to get choppy during scenes with a lot of scripted actions and dialog.  The opening scene with Joker seemed to take forever. 
I also tried updating my Intel drivers, turning Windows Aero support on and off, and running windowed or full screen, changing the power, 3d scheme, or memory footprint of the Intel GMA control panel.  None of these changed the Average framerate more than 1-2 FPS.  I consistently benchmarked the game at 19-20 FPS average.

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